David MacKay is a physics professor who is also chief scientific advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. 

From the Guardian today:

Every person in Britain will need to pay about £5,000 a year between now and 2050 on rebuilding and using the nation's entire energy system, according to government figures. But the cost of developing clean and sustainable electricity, heating and transport will be very similar to replacing today's ageing and polluting power stations, the analysis finds.

The forecasts come from a unique open-source analysis package, called the 2050 pathways calculator, which was created by Prof David MacKay, chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The predictions challenge suggestions that the costs of embracing low-carbon energy and meeting the UK's legally binding commitments to tackle global warming will be higher than using traditional energy sources. They are also supported by a major European Union project that found developing renewable energy was no more expensive than alternatives.

 "The calculator takes the poison out of the debate," said MacKay, in an interview with the Guardian. "The key thing is that any scenario you choose has to add up."

But how about simply pretending that the shale scenario doesn't exist?

Doing almost nothing to develop low-carbon energy systems – and busting the UK's carbon targets – would still cost £4,682 a year, spent on imported gas for electricity generation and heating and oil for all vehicles. That is 13% of the expected £35,000 average income over the period. By comparison, the least-cost 2050 scenario is £84 (1.8%) a year less expensive, and envisages a mix of electricity generation comprising 42% renewable energy, 31% nuclear power and 27% gas plants with the carbon captured and stored underground (CCS). It also envisages big improvements in energy efficiency, with demand from lighting and appliances having fallen by 60% compared with 2007 levels.

However, the cost of the "do nothing" option does not include the damage to the economy expected as a result of climate change, and the calculator notes that, according to the landmark Stern review: "This is the equivalent of up to £6,500 per person per year on average, on top of the cost of the energy system."

it would be useful to see what gas price implication MacKay's model uses.  Before we get to see the actual calculator, the DECC site lets us know, as breathlessly as the Guardian, how useful we'll find it:


  • Demand
    On the demand side, you can make choices about the amount of energy the UK uses. For example, you can choose how far to insulate our houses, how much more efficient to make our lighting and appliances, or choose how we travel and in what kind of vehicles.

  • Supply
    On the supply side you can choose how the UK produces its energy. For example, you can choose to build up to 40,000 offshore wind turbines or up to 50 3GW nuclear power stations, you can allocate up to 20% of the UK’s land to growing bio crops and you can reduce our use of landfill sites.


Except the calculator simply doesn't let you choose most obvious choice:  What if we replaced all coal with natural gas?  It also fails to take into account any role whatsoever for Natural Gas Vehicles, especially in freight and marine applications where the technology already exists. What did surprise me was choosing wind or solar seemed to make almost no impact whatsoever. In fact I couldn't find anyway to meet the 2050 targets even including massive efficiency schemes  or massive wind off shore and on, combined with a 40% drop in industrial output and a 1.5 C drop in average room temperature and a massive nuclear roll out.  That strikes me as a whole lot of pain for very little gain. A lot of that pain must be cost 50 3GW nuclear power stations can't be cheap. But everything is cheap if we go back to the  Guardian:

 Doing almost nothing to develop low-carbon energy systems – and busting the UK's carbon targets – would still cost £4,682 a year, spent on imported gas for electricity generation and heating and oil for all vehicles.

Cost compared to what? The key mistake here seems to be no role for gas at all.  For example, who is talking of imported gas all the way to 2050 these days?  So to say that doing nothing would still be very expensive only makes sense if you don't factor in the local and international impact of shale gas.

Which, given how the Professor has in the past condemned gas as just another fossil fuel, would at least be consistent.  But even here in the Guardian, reality is raising it's head:

 Shale gas, which is currently being explored in Lancashire and has driven prices down in the US, is not explicitly included in the calculator. But can be easily incorporated, says MacKay, by choosing a low gas price in the model. There is a possible "positive future" when domestic shale gas cuts prices and CCS is working, he says.

But that is the point. Maybe I'm missing something, but you cannot choose a low gas price in the model.  If i"m wrong, and simply seeking simple solutions, please tell me where I can put a low gas price in the model.

If there is a possible positive future, we deserve to hear about it. 

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  • Niels

    "However, the cost of the "do nothing" option does not include the damage to the economy expected as a result of climate change, and the calculator notes that, according to the landmark Stern review: "This is the equivalent of up to £6,500 per person per year on average, on top of the cost of the energy system."<br /><br />So, in other words, we could improve our economy by £6.5 billion pr. million persons pr. year if it turns out that AGW is nonsense. And in any event our unilateral action makes no difference. Have we all gone bonkers?

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  • Mydogsgotnonose


    The Stern Report is bunkum because the IPCC science on which it is based is also bunkum.<br /><br />High CO2 'climate sensitivity' was logical when it was thought CO2 rose with T at the end of ice ages but when in 1997 that was disproved, insiders switched to calibrating models against modern warming via the fake 'hockey stick' and systematically lowering past temperatures.<br /><br />In 2007 it was shown that at the end of the last ice age, warming of Southern Ocean deeps started 2000 years before CO2 rose. The same biofeedback process explains recent Arctic warming now reversing.<br /><br />IPCC CO2 climate sensitivity is exaggerated by a factor of at least 6.7. When you correct the physics, extra CO2 probably slightly cools now there is IR band saturation. Hence no IPCC climate model can predict climate.

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  • Dave

    I want to start a 'business' in say 10 years time therefore everyone should pay me, up front, sufficient funds for me to get started. £50 per household, per year should about cover it. Then, when I'm up and running, I'll over-charge you for my products as a 'thank-you'.<br />Cash-only please.

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  • Geckko

    A physucs professor building an economic model makes as much sense as an economist building a physics model.<br /><br /><br />The result of MacKay speak for themselves.

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  • malcolm

    from the website:<br /><br />and find out how we have used stakeholder input to improve the Calculator. <br /><br /><br />And, a search of the offending document reveals a large improvement from the wind turbine industry:<br /><br />Some industry stakeholders believe that<br />the total capacity could be up to 200-250 GW.<br /><br />Only 70 to 80 times the maximum actually generated now for short periods on a good day, if the graphs here are anything to go by:http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/<br />So, we need to build another 70 turbines for every existing one. And backup for icy windfree winter weeks. I begin to see where the £5000 per year per person for 40 years come from. That includes rebuilding and reinstalling all those reaching the end of their 20 year useful life, from 2020 onwards..... <br />And reliable backup for icy wind-free winter weeks. <br /><br /><br />Anyone up for a FOI request to find out who all these stakeholders are (and who wasn't included)?

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  • I too would be interested in the results of an FOI request. I will place my 2 pennies on the FOI request being denied because of "conflict of interests" or some such nonsense.<br /><br />I really do hope that someone keeps digging at this steaming pile of sh!t.

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  • Evgueni

    Can anybody stop the Earth please, I would like to get off. I am feeling dizzy as I can see lots of educated people in power talking complete and utter nonsense, claiming that they can regulate the Earth's climate by taxation. <br /><br />I feel like I have gone mad, because I can't think that everybody else has... <br /><br />Can any of those wise men can explain to me (and I have scientific education, as well as an ACA), how a trace gas with very little climatic impact (as agreed even by IPCC), to global turnover of which mankind as a whole contributes 2%, and GB contributing 2% in that, if emissions of GB cut by 20%, so it is 0.02x0.02x0.2=0.00008 reduction (costing £120 bn pounds in direct costs only) and delivering a climate impact which we cannot even hope to detect - can be seriously discussed as serious policy topic? Especially that for the last 13 years the globe's temperature stood still?

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  • guest2

    It's actually pretty straightforward to put a low gas price into the calculator - simply go to the 'cost sensitivity' tab (under 'see implications' in the top left hand corner). You can then select a gas price of 45p/therm, which is roughly equal to $7/MMBtu. so higher than Henry Hub prices but well below NBP prices. You can put lower values into the Excel spreadsheet.<br /><br />As to using gas rather than coal, the calculator assumes that any shortfall in electricity supply will be met by new gas (not coal) plant, and that no coal (other than coal CCS) will operate beyond 2030, so it's effectively building in a complete coal to gas switch, unless you specify renewables, nuclear, or coal CCS. Unabated gas just produces too much CO2, even if it's better than coal.

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  • The CCS is just an effort by the nuclear/renewables lobby to try and handicap fossil fuels to make their own sources of energy uncompetitive .<br /><br />Currently CCS would consume 1/4 of the electrical energy generated thus increasing consumption of fossil fuels by 1/3rd to cover it .<br /><br />How could our politicians have got it so badly wrong ?<br />Why can't they admit it rather than keep us on this ruinous path ?

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  • Not Low enough at $7MMBTU considering it's below $3 in the US these days. The IEA foresee gas prices averaging $5 and I'm inclined to agree with them. So that would certainly makes things different.<br />But going back to unabated gas: it provides 60% or more carbon reduction depending on efficiency, and actual use of gas, but can probably sneak up to at least 65% savings compared to coal by burning coal in small scale gensets distributed around the network, thus saving transmission losses.<br />So the actual carbon saving comparing coal CCS v unabated gas is only 20% or so - assuming that CCS actually works. It may work, but even the optimists say it won't work until the 20130's at scale, so lets use gas today. But billions to get a 20% result compared to the do nothing of abandoning coal entirely doesn't sound alluring, especially considering that it still means energy insecurity via coal imports.

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